A senior World Health Organisation official has poured scorn on claims that the agency has been influenced by the pharmaceutical industry and overstated the swine flu pandemic.

Keiji Fukuda, special adviser to the WHO director-general on pandemic influenza, told reporters that “the world is going through a real pandemic” and “the description of it as a fake is both wrong and irresponsible”. He made the comments following claims by Council of Europe health committee chairman Wolfgang Wodarg that a “false pandemic” flu campaign is “one of the greatest medicine scandals of the century” which has been unduly influenced by drugmakers and a debate in the Council’s parliamentary assembly, titled "false pandemics, a threat to health" will be held later this month.

Dr Fukuda is not best pleased by that stance, saying that the WHO “has been balanced and truthful in the information it has provided to the public. It has not underplayed and not overplayed the risk it poses to the public”. He added that Dr Wodarg’s allegation that this is not a pandemic “is scientifically wrong and historically inaccurate”, noting that the WHO’s basic definition of the latter “is the same. There is worldwide spread of a disease,” he said.

Dr Fukuda also denied that the agency has been in cahoots with the pharmaceutical sector over H1N1. “Has the WHO been influenced by industry? The answer is, 'no'," he said, adding that to remain free from undue influence it has had in place “routine protections against conflict of interest. This is true for a long time but also during this particular pandemic”.

He went to say that “from the very beginning, the WHO has gone out of its way to let everyone know that the future course of the pandemic was uncertain, that we did not have a crystal ball and we could not tell you which way it was going to go”. Dr Fukuda did warn, however, that although so far the pandemic has turned out to be relatively mild, and the number of cases is dropping in many countries, the virus continues to spread and activity is increasing in areas such as northern Africa, southern Asia and eastern Europe.

He concluded by saying that another wave could occur in the northern hemisphere in late winter or early spring.